Hong Kong’s professional body of barristers has warned that Beijing’s plan to give the chief executive power to select judges in national security cases would run contrary to the city’s mini-constitution.

Draft provisions of a controversial law targeting perceived threats to national security in Hong Kong were reported in detail by state-run Xinhua News Agency on Saturday. Critics have said the proposals would deal a hammer blow to freedoms and the rule of law in the territory.

Carrie Lam and Xi Jinping. Photo: GovHK.

Tuesday’s statement marked the fourth time the Hong Kong Bar Association has aired criticism of proposals under the controversial legislation. It said enabling the city’s leader to designate judges to preside over trials for such cases would undermine judicial independence. The power is currently exercised by the judiciary.

It added the arrangement would contradict the “intent and spirit” of Article 88 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that the chief executive shall base the appointments of judges on the recommendations of an independent commission composed of legal sector personnel.

“Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly be seen to be done. It is vital for judicial decisions in the HKSAR to be perceived by the public as being made by judges on exclusively the legal and factual merits of the case as, in the exercise of their own judgment, they consider them to be, free from any actual or perceived influence or interference from the executive arm of the Government (including the [chief executive]).”

“It is of utmost importance that no law be passed that will change the constitutional fabric of the HKSAR as designed under the Basic Law.”

Beijing has made the decision to bypass the local legislature in order to ram through the law, meant to criminalise subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorism after months of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in the city.

Association Chairman Philip Dykes has repeatedly singled-out the provision related to judges as setting a worrying precedent, whilst Vice-Chair Anita Yip has slammed it as constituting executive interference into the judiciary.

Hong Kong Bar Association Chair Philip Dykes. Photo: Citizen News.

Hours earlier, Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the arrangement, saying it would only allow her to draw up a list of judges from different levels of courts, rather than assign individuals to handle particular cases.

Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.